Peacekeeping in Kosovo

Peacekeeping in Kosovo requires continuous efforts to help local Albanians and Serbs co-exist next to each other while working to find ways for them to cooperate and work together. Any effort to force the northern Serbs into Kosovo institutions will lead either to violence or ethnic flight.

By Gerard Gallucci

Peacekeeping, when it is needed, requires a dual focus: the immediate effort to establish peace and security and a longer term endeavour of making security and stability sustainable without the continued presence of peacekeepers. The first is relatively easy if you have enough people and guns. Making peace sustainable is much the harder part and requires time and efforts in many areas. For reasons essentially historical – centuries of Ottoman occupation followed by a failed effort to retain the framework of mixed ethnic communities in the successor Yugoslav state – when the Western Balkans came apart in the 1990’s, a lot of peacekeeping was required. Kosovo after 1999 became the last piece to require an international peacekeeping enterprise to stabilize not only itself but to ensure stability for the region.

The story of UN and NATO involvement on Kosovo – best seen as the effort to make up for past Balkans mistakes and somehow bring Russia on board – does not need repeating. But the peacekeeping effort in Kosovo was perhaps terminally scared by the history and politics behind UNSCR 1244. 1244 mandated the UN to develop institutions to “provide an interim administration for Kosovo…while establishing and overseeing the development of provisional democratic self-governing institutions to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo.” It also recognized the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” and noted that after withdrawal of the Yugoslav army “an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serb military and police personnel will be permitted to return to Kosovo.”

The UN mission began implementing the mandate to develop self-governing institutions from Pristina – where few Serbs remained – and in an atmosphere in which many of the internationals arriving there were ready to see the Serbs as perpetrators and the Albanians as victims. Differences within UNMIK existed but those working for a balanced approach lost out to those who saw developing local institutions as meaning Kosovo Albanian institutions. This approach led UNMIK in Pristina to see its job after February 17, 2008 as enforcing the new Kosovo institutions on all of Kosovo, including the north. This in turn led to the March 17 violence in which an UNPOL officer was killed and scores more injured. Despite EULEX supposedly becoming status-neutral with last November’s agreement with the UN, it too takes the same approach in seeking to impose Pristina based-institutions on the Serbs. (Meanwhile, EULEX is considerably weaker that the UN ever was in implementing its law and order mandate in the south.)

The fact that under UNSCR 1244, Kosovo remains part of Serbia is the other governing artefact of 1999. Kosovo’s status has not been settled by the UDI. Beyond the legal and diplomatic questions, Kosovo’s status is a matter of communal identity and deeply felt emotions about kith and kin. For the Albanians, Kosovo’s independence and institutions are about their independence and institutions. Nothing they say to comfort the internationals changes that. Not surprisingly, the Serbs see it the same way and therefore reject being part of Kosovo in favour of remaining part of Serbia. This ethnic-based identification of state remains the central reality across the Balkans. EULEX efforts to force or bully Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs – especially in the north – is simply not good peacekeeping because this sort of difference cannot be settled through force except by killing or removing one side.

In the still zero-sum world of the Balkans, whatever one side wins, the other loses. The Albanians have won control of 85% of Kosovo and have achieved an independent state that will eventually be widely recognized (as there is no way to put that genie back into the bottle). Serbs south of the Ibar must live with that the best they can. But the northern Serbs are not surrounded and have their own functioning institutions – that the Albanians insist on calling “parallel” – operating under Serbian law. The Serbs and Albanians cannot both have the north, at least for now. The Albanians are pushing into north Mitrovica, using construction of houses for “returnees” to gain territory and perhaps provoke the Serbs into a violent reaction that EULEX can use as a pretext for “cracking down on the radicals.” The Albanians also are pushing EULEX to enforce legal authority – meaning their authority – on the north through courts, customs and arrests. EULEX has tried intimidating the local Serbs but is now trying to draw support from Belgrade via an agreement on police cooperation. While it remains to be seen if this agreement will be status-neutral and acceptable to the local Serbs – who last year burned down the two Kosovo customs posts at the boundary – the Albanians have been loudly critical. They do not want a resolution of police and justice issues in a manner acceptable to the Serbs because it would only consolidate the status quo in the north.

Northern Kosovo is different; it is not under the Pristina’s rule. Any effort to force the northern Serbs into Kosovo institutions will lead either to violence or ethnic flight. Change may come, but only with time. Peacekeeping remains key to achieving time and space for such change. Peacekeeping requires continuous efforts to help local Albanians and Serbs co-exist next to each other while working to find ways for them to cooperate and work together. This is what UNMIK tries to do in the Mitrovica Region and it should have everyone’s active support. If the north becomes the trigger for the next wave of ethnic disturbances in the Balkans, the effects may not all be local.

Gerard M. Gallucci retired from the US Foreign Service in 2005. His service included as Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Khartoum, Chargé d’affaires in Brasilia, and at the National Security Council as Director for Inter-American Affairs. His 25 years with the US State Department focused on Latin America and Africa and included working on the Angola and Mozambique peace processes, implementation of UNSCR 435/78 for Namibia and on the transition to full democracy in South Africa. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and now serves elsewhere. Gallucci has taught in the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University and, prior to government service, at West Virginia Wesleyan College and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in Political Science. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

You can read more of Mr. Gallucci’s analysis of current developments in Kosovo by visiting